Environmental defenders slammed Philippine National Police chief General Oscar Albayalde for blaming the “communist factor” the spate of land and environment-related killings that have made the Philippines the deadliest place in the world for eco-activists in the recent investigative report of international watchdog Global Witness.

“Gen. Albayalde does not have a license to carpet bomb communities opposing big mining, agribusiness, and other destructive projects even if communist rebels are present in these areas. Albayalde’s logic of impunity is the very reason that police and military personnel are suspected or confirmed to be involved in 7 out of 10 environmental defenders who lost their lives under the Duterte government,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), one of the local partners of Global Witness.

“By attempting to justify the killings with a red bogey and with no concrete actions proposed, Albayalde’s statements only serves to perpetuate the impunity against environmental defenders. Albayalde should be enforcing environmental laws, not reinforcing the attacks against defenders who by their brave work are actually upholding these environmental laws,” Dulce furthered.

Data gathered by Kalikasan PNE from the moment of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ascension in 2016 to down to the end of 2018 showed that 72 cases or 67.9% of the total monitored environmental defender killings were suspectedly, and in certain cases verified by witnesses and evidence, to have involved police, military, or paramilitary groups.

This trend was corroborated in the Global Witness 2019 report entitled ‘Enemies of the State’, demonstrating that at least 40 killings across the world in 2018 involved state security forces.

The report noted that “often, these crimes are aided by the people and institutions meant to prevent them, and that “the Philippines Army, in particular, has been linked to numerous killings of defenders, working in collusion with powerful private interests.” It further observes that “the country’s legal system is used to criminalise and intimidate land and environmental defenders, while officials who are complicit in these crimes go unpunished.”

“The problem lies squarely in the Duterte government’s natural resources wholesale on one hand, and the brutal use of militarization as an investment guarantee on the other. Duterte has already allowed almost P800 billion worth of mineral, forest, water, wildlife and other natural resources to be lost to foreign interests. Many of the environment-related killings under Duterte are known oppositionists to the extractive and destructive projects that contribute to this wholesale,” explained Dulce.

“We are calling for an independent probe into the worsening spate of murders of environmental defenders as government officials like Albayalde continue to deny this bloody reality. We particularly urge Congress to exercise its oversight powers in investigating the nexus of the Duterte government’s policy of plunder and internal security,” ended Dulce.#